Cook Islands

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Coordinates: 21°14′S 159°46′W / 21.233°S 159.767°W / -21.233; -159.767

Cook Islands
Kūki 'Āirani
Anthem: Te Atua Mou E
(English: "God is Truth")
Location of the Cook Islands
and largest city
21°12′S 159°46′W / 21.200°S 159.767°W / -21.200; -159.767
Official languages
Spoken languages
  • English (86.4%)
  • Cook Islands Māori (76.2%)
  • Other (8.3%)[1]
Ethnic groups
(2016 census[2])
Demonym(s)Cook Islander
GovernmentUnitary constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Elizabeth II
Tom Marsters
Mark Brown
Tou Travel Ariki
Associated state of New Zealand
4 August 1965
• UN recognition of independence in foreign relations
• Total
236.7 km2 (91.4 sq mi) (unranked)
• 2016 census
17,459[4] (223rd)
• Density
42/km2 (108.8/sq mi) (138th)
GDP (nominal)2020 estimate
• Total
US$384,000,000[5] (not ranked)
• Per capita
US$21,994 (not ranked)
CurrencyNew Zealand dollar (NZD)
Cook Islands dollar
Time zoneUTC-10 (CKT)
Driving sideleft
Calling code+682
ISO 3166 codeCK
  1. ^ As per the Te Reo Maori Act.

The Cook Islands (Cook Islands Māori: Kūki 'Āirani)[6] is a self-governing island country in the South Pacific Ocean in free association with New Zealand. It comprises 15 islands whose total land area is 240 square kilometres (93 sq mi). The Cook Islands' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers 1,960,027 square kilometres (756,771 sq mi) of ocean.[7]

New Zealand is responsible for the Cook Islands' defence and foreign affairs, but these responsibilities are exercised in consultation with the Cook Islands.[8] In recent times, the Cook Islands have adopted an increasingly independent foreign policy.[9] Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand, but they also have the status of Cook Islands nationals, which is not given to other New Zealand citizens. The Cook Islands have been an active member of the Pacific Community since 1980.

The Cook Islands' main population centres are on the island of Rarotonga (13,007 in 2016),[4] where there is an international airport. There is also a larger population of Cook Islanders in New Zealand itself: in the 2013 census, 61,839 people said they were Cook Islanders, or of Cook Islands descent.[10]

With over 168,000 visitors travelling to the islands in 2018,[11] tourism is the country's main industry, and the leading element of the economy, ahead of offshore banking, pearls, and marine and fruit exports.


The Cook Islands were first settled around AD 1000[12] by Polynesian people who are thought to have migrated from Tahiti,[13] an island 1,154 kilometres (717 mi) to the northeast of the main island of Rarotonga.

The first European contact with the islands took place in 1595 when the Spanish navigator Álvaro de Mendaña de Neira sighted the island of Pukapuka, which he named San Bernardo (Saint Bernard). Pedro Fernandes de Queirós, a Portuguese captain at the service of the Spanish Crown, made the first European landing in the islands when he set foot on Rakahanga in 1606, calling the island Gente Hermosa (Beautiful People).[14]

The British navigator Captain James Cook arrived in 1773 and again in 1777[15] giving the island of Manuae the name Hervey Island. The Hervey Islands later came to be applied to the entire southern group. The name "Cook Islands", in honour of Cook, first appeared on a Russian naval chart published by Adam Johann von Krusenstern in the 1820s.[16]

In 1813 John Williams, a missionary on the Endeavour (not the same ship as Cook's) made the first recorded European sighting of Rarotonga.[17] The first recorded landing on Rarotonga by Europeans was in 1814 by the Cumberland; trouble broke out between the sailors and the Islanders and many were killed on both sides.[18] The islands saw no more Europeans until English missionaries arrived in 1821. Christianity quickly took hold in the culture and many islanders are Christians today.[19]

The islands were a popular stop in the 19th century for whaling ships from the United States, Britain and Australia. They visited, from at least 1826, to obtain water, food, and firewood.[20] Their favourite islands were Rarotonga, Aitutaki, Mangaia and Penrhyn.

Governor Lord Ranfurly reading the annexation proclamation to Queen Makea on 7 October 1900.

The Cook Islands became aligned to the United Kingdom in 1890, largely because of the fear of British residents that France might occupy the islands as it already had Tahiti.[21] On 6 September 1900, the islanders' leaders presented a petition asking that the islands (including Niue "if possible") should be annexed as British territory.[22][23] On 8 and 9 October 1900, seven instruments of cession of Rarotonga and other islands were signed by their chiefs and people. A British Proclamation was issued, stating that the cessions were accepted and the islands declared parts of Her Britannic Majesty's dominions.[22] However, it did not include Aitutaki. Even though the inhabitants regarded themselves as British subjects, the Crown's title was unclear until the island was formally annexed by that Proclamation.[24][25] In 1901 the islands were included within the boundaries of the Colony of New Zealand by Order in Council[26] under the Colonial Boundaries Act, 1895 of the United Kingdom.[22][27] The boundary change became effective on 11 June 1901, and the Cook Islands have had a formal relationship with New Zealand since that time.[22]

The Cook Islands responded to the call for service when World War One began, immediately sending five contingents, close to 500 men, to the war. The island's young men volunteered at the outbreak of the war to reinforce the Maori Contingents. A Patriotic Fund was set up very quickly, raising funds to support the war effort. The Cook Islanders were trained at Narrow Neck Camp in Devonport, and the first recruits departed on 13 October 1915 on the SS Te Anau. The ship arrived in Egypt just as the New Zealand units were about to be transferred to the Western Front. In September, 1916, the Pioneer Battalion, a combination of Cook Islanders, Maori and Pakeha soldiers, saw heavy action in the Allied attack on Flers, the first battle of the Somme. Three Cook Islanders from this first contingent died from enemy action and at least ten died of disease as they struggled to adapt to the conditions in Europe. The 2nd and 3rd Cook Island Contingents were part of the Sanai-Palestine campaign, first in a logistical role for the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Rifles at their Moascar base and later in ammunition supply for the Royal Artillery. After the war, the men returned to the outbreak of the influenza epidemic in New Zealand, and this, along with European diseases meant that a large number did not survive and died in New Zealand or on their return home over the coming years.[28]

When the British Nationality and New Zealand Citizenship Act 1948 came into effect on 1 January 1949, Cook Islanders who were British subjects automatically gained New Zealand citizenship.[29] The islands remained a New Zealand dependent territory until the New Zealand Government decided to grant them self-governing status. On 4 August 1965, a constitution was promulgated. The first Monday in August is celebrated each year as Constitution Day.[30] Albert Henry of the Cook Islands Party was elected as the first Premier and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.[19] Henry led the nation until 1978, when he was accused of vote-rigging and resigned. He was stripped of his knighthood in 1979.[19] He was succeeded by Tom Davis of the Democratic Party who held that position until March 1983.[31]

In March 2019, it was reported that the Cook Islands had plans to change its name and remove the reference to Captain James Cook in favour of "a title that reflects its 'Polynesian nature'".[32][33] It was later reported in May 2019 that the proposed name change had been poorly received by the Cook Islands diaspora. As a compromise, it was decided that the English name of the islands would not be altered, but that a new Cook Islands Māori name would be adopted to replace the current name, a transliteration from English.[34] Discussions over the name continued in 2020.[35]


Map of the Cook Islands

The Cook Islands are in the South Pacific Ocean, north-east of New Zealand, between French Polynesia and American Samoa. There are 15 major islands spread over 2,200,000 km2 (850,000 sq mi) of ocean, divided into two distinct groups: the Southern Cook Islands and the Northern Cook Islands of coral atolls.[36]

The islands were formed by volcanic activity; the northern group is older and consists of six atolls, which are sunken volcanoes topped by coral growth. The climate is moderate to tropical. The Cook Islands consist of 15 islands and two reefs. From March to December, the Cook Islands are in the path of tropical cyclones, the most notable of which were the cyclones Martin and Percy.[37] Two terrestrial ecoregions lie within the islands' territory: Central Polynesian tropical moist forests and Cook Islands tropical moist forests.[38]

Group Island Area
Population Density
Northern Penrhyn 10 226 22.6
Northern Rakahanga 4 80 20.0
Northern Manihiki 5 213 42.6
Northern Pukapuka 1 444 444.0
Northern Tema Reef (submerged) 0 0 -
Northern Nassau 1 78 78.0
Northern Suwarrow 0 0 0.0
Southern Palmerston 2 58 28.0
Southern Aitutaki 18 1,928 107.1
Southern Manuae 6 0 0.0
Southern Takutea 1 0 0.0
Southern Mitiaro 22 155 7.1
Southern Atiu 27 437 16.2
Southern Mauke 18 297 16.5
Southern Winslow Reef (submerged) 0 0 -
Southern Rarotonga 67 13,044 194.7
Southern Mangaia 52 499 9.6
Total Total 237 17,459 73.7

The table is ordered from north to south. Population figures from the 2016 census.[39]

Politics and foreign relations

The parliament building of the Cook Islands, formerly a hotel
Prime Minister Henry Puna with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 31 August 2012

The Cook Islands are a representative democracy with a parliamentary system in an associated state relationship with New Zealand. Executive power is exercised by the government, with the Chief Minister as head of government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of the Cook Islands. There is a multi-party system. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature. The head of state is the Queen of New Zealand, who is represented in the Cook Islands by the Queen's Representative.[40]

The islands are self-governing in "free association" with New Zealand. New Zealand retains primary responsibility for external affairs, acting in consultation with the Cook Islands government. Cook Islands nationals are citizens of New Zealand and can receive New Zealand government services, but the reverse is not true; New Zealand citizens are not Cook Islands nationals. Despite this, as of 2018, the Cook Islands had diplomatic relations in its own name with 52 other countries. The Cook Islands is not a United Nations member state, but, along with Niue, has had their "full treaty-making capacity" recognised by the United Nations Secretariat,[41][42] and is a full member of the WHO, UNESCO, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, all UN specialised agencies, and is an associate member of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) and a Member of the Assembly of States of the International Criminal Court.

On 11 June 1980, the United States signed a treaty with the Cook Islands specifying the maritime border between the Cook Islands and American Samoa and also relinquishing any American claims to Penrhyn Island, Pukapuka, Manihiki, and Rakahanga.[43] In 1990 the Cook Islands and France signed a treaty that delimited the boundary between the Cook Islands and French Polynesia.[44] In late August 2012, United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the islands. In 2017, the Cook Islands signed the UN treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.[45]

Human rights

Male homosexuality is illegal in the Cook Islands and is punishable by a maximum term of seven years imprisonment.[46]

Administrative subdivisions

There are island councils on all of the inhabited outer islands (Outer Islands Local Government Act 1987 with amendments up to 2004, and Palmerston Island Local Government Act 1993) except Nassau, which is governed by Pukapuka (Suwarrow, with only one caretaker living on the island, also governed by Pukapuka, is not counted with the inhabited islands in this context). Each council is headed by a mayor.

Aerial view of Penrhyn
The Ten Outer Islands Councils are:
Aitutakitopo.png Aitutaki Aerial.jpg Aitutaki (including uninhabited Manuae)
Atiumap.png Atiu Aerial.jpg Atiu (including uninhabited Takutea)
Mangaia english version.png Mangaia (Correct Orientation).JPG Mangaia
Manihiki.jpg Manihiki Aerial.jpg Manihiki
Mauke map.jpg Mauke Aerial.jpg Ma'uke
Mitiaro Island map.jpg Mitiaro Aerial.jpg Mitiaro
Palmerston Island map.jpg Palmerston Aerial.jpg Palmerston
Penrhyn.png Penhryn atoll.jpg Penrhyn
Pukapuka.png Pukapuka Atoll.jpg Pukapuka (including Nassau and Suwarrow)
Rakahanga.jpg ISS002-E-10047rakahanga.jpg Rakahanga
Districts of Rarotonga

The three Vaka councils of Rarotonga established in 1997 (Rarotonga Local Government Act 1997), also headed by mayors,[47] were abolished in February 2008, despite much controversy.[48][49]

The three Vaka councils on Rarotonga were:
Te-Au-O-Tonga (equivalent to Avarua, the capital of the Cook Islands)
Puaikura Arorangi
Takitumu Matavera, Ngatangiia, Takitumu

On the lowest level, there are village committees. Nassau, which is governed by Pukapuka, has an island committee (Nassau Island Committee), which advises the Pukapuka Island Council on matters concerning its own island.


Population pyramid 2011[50]
% Males Age Females %

Births and deaths[51]

Year Population Live births Deaths Natural increase Crude birth rate Crude death rate Rate of natural increase
2009 22,600 284 72 212 12.6 3.2 9.4
2010 23,700 286 92 194 12.1 3.9 8.2
2011 14,974 262 72 190 13.6 3.7 9.8
2012 19,500 259 104 155 13.3 5.3 7.9
2013 18,600 256 115 141 13.8 6.2 7.6
2014 18,600 204 113 11.0 6.1 4.9
2015 18,400 205 102 11.0 5.5 5.5
2016 17,434
2017 19,500
2018 18,600
2019 20,200 225 105


In the Cook Islands the Church is separate from the state, and most of the population is Christian.[52] The religious distribution is as follows:

Church in Avarua, Rarotonga

The various Protestant groups account for 62.8% of the believers, the most followed denomination being the Cook Islands Christian Church with 49.1%. Other Protestant Christian groups include Seventh-day Adventist 7.9%, Assemblies of God 3.7% Apostolic Church 2.1%. The main non-Protestant group is Roman Catholics with 17% of the population. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes up 4.4%.[52]


A proportional representation of Cook Islands, 2019

The economy is strongly affected by geography. It is isolated from foreign markets, and has some inadequate infrastructure; it lacks major natural resources, has limited manufacturing and suffers moderately from natural disasters.[53] Tourism provides the economic base that makes up approximately 67.5% of GDP. Additionally, the economy is supported by foreign aid, largely from New Zealand. China has also contributed foreign aid, which has resulted in, among other projects, the Police Headquarters building. The Cook Islands is expanding its agriculture, mining and fishing sectors, with varying success.

Since approximately 1989, the Cook Islands have become a location specialising in so-called asset protection trusts, by which investors shelter assets from the reach of creditors and legal authorities.[54][55] According to The New York Times, the Cooks have "laws devised to protect foreigners' assets from legal claims in their home countries", which were apparently crafted specifically to thwart the long arm of American justice; creditors must travel to the Cook Islands and argue their cases under Cooks law, often at prohibitive expense.[54] Unlike other foreign jurisdictions such as the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands and Switzerland, the Cooks "generally disregard foreign court orders" and do not require that bank accounts, real estate, or other assets protected from scrutiny (it is illegal to disclose names or any information about Cooks trusts) be physically located within the archipelago.[54] Taxes on trusts and trust employees account for some 8% of the Cook Islands economy, behind tourism but ahead of fishing.[54]

In recent years, the Cook Islands has gained a reputation as a debtor paradise, through the enactment of legislation that permits debtors to shield their property from the claims of creditors.[54]

Since 2008 the Executive Director of Cook Islands Bank has been Vaine Nooana-Arioka.[56]


There are eleven airports in the Cook Islands, including one with a paved runway, Rarotonga International Airport,[57] served by four passenger airlines.



Newspapers in the Cook Islands are usually published in English with some articles in Cook Islands Māori.[58] The Cook Islands News has been published since 1945, although it was owned by the government until 1989.[59] Former newspapers include Te Akatauira, which was published from 1978 to 1980.[58]

Float parade during the annual Maeva Nui celebrations.


The languages of the Cook Islands include English, Cook Islands Māori (or "Rarotongan"), and Pukapukan. Dialects of Cook Islands Maori include Penrhyn; Rakahanga-Manihiki; the Ngaputoru dialect of Atiu, Mitiaro, and Mauke; the Aitutaki dialect; and the Mangaian dialect. Cook Islands Maori and its dialectic variants are closely related to both Tahitian and to New Zealand Māori. Pukapukan is considered closely related to the Samoan language. English and Cook Islands Māori are official languages of the Cook Islands; per the Te Reo Maori Act. The legal definition of Cook Islands Māori includes Pukapukan.[60]


Music in the Cook Islands is varied, with Christian songs being quite popular, but traditional dancing and songs in Polynesian languages remain popular.

Confiscation and destruction of idol gods by European missionaries in Rarotonga, 1837
The Cook Islands Christian Church

Public holidays



Woodcarving is a common art form in the Cook Islands. The proximity of islands in the southern group helped produce a homogeneous style of carving but that had special developments in each island. Rarotonga is known for its fisherman's gods and staff-gods, Atiu for its wooden seats, Mitiaro, Mauke and Atiu for mace and slab gods and Mangaia for its ceremonial adzes. Most of the original wood carvings were either spirited away by early European collectors or were burned in large numbers by missionaries. Today, carving is no longer the major art form with the same spiritual and cultural emphasis given to it by the Maori in New Zealand. However, there are continual efforts to interest young people in their heritage and some good work is being turned out under the guidance of older carvers. Atiu, in particular, has a strong tradition of crafts both in carving and local fibre arts such as tapa. Mangaia is the source of many fine adzes carved in a distinctive, idiosyncratic style with the so-called double-k design. Mangaia also produces food pounders carved from the heavy calcite found in its extensive limestone caves.[61]


The outer islands produce traditional weaving of mats, basketware and hats. Particularly fine examples of rito hats are worn by women to church. They are made from the uncurled immature fibre of the coconut palm and are of very high quality. The Polynesian equivalent of Panama hats, they are highly valued and are keenly sought by Polynesian visitors from Tahiti. Often, they are decorated with hatbands made of minuscule pupu shells that are painted and stitched on by hand. Although pupu are found on other islands the collection and use of them in decorative work has become a speciality of Mangaia. The weaving of rito is a speciality of the northern islands, Manihiki, Rakahanga and Penrhyn.[62]


A major art form in the Cook Islands is tivaevae. This is, in essence, the art of handmade Island scenery patchwork quilts. Introduced by the wives of missionaries in the 19th century, the craft grew into a communal activity, which is probably one of the main reasons for its popularity.[63]

Contemporary art

The Cook Islands has produced internationally recognised contemporary artists, especially in the main island of Rarotonga. Artists include painter (and photographer) Mahiriki Tangaroa, sculptors Eruera (Ted) Nia (originally a film maker) and master carver Mike Tavioni, painter (and Polynesian tattoo enthusiast) Upoko'ina Ian George, Aitutakian-born painter Tim Manavaroa Buchanan, Loretta Reynolds, Judith Kunzlé, Joan Rolls Gragg, Kay George (who is also known for her fabric designs), Apii Rongo, Varu Samuel, and multi-media, installation and community-project artist Ani O'Neill, all of whom currently live on the main island of Rarotonga. Atiuan-based Andrea Eimke is an artist who works in the medium of tapa and other textiles, and also co-authored the book 'Tivaivai – The Social Fabric of the Cook Islands' with British academic Susanne Kuechler. Many of these artists have studied at university art schools in New Zealand and continue to enjoy close links with the New Zealand art scene.[64]

New Zealand-based Cook Islander artists include Michel Tuffery, print-maker David Teata, Richard Shortland Cooper, Sylvia Marsters and Jim Vivieaere.

On Rarotonga, the main commercial galleries are Beachcomber Contemporary Art (Taputapuatea, Avarua) run by Ben & Trevon Bergman,[65] and The Art Studio Gallery (Arorangi) run by Ian and Kay George.[66] The Cook Islands National Museum also exhibits art.[67]


Tiare māori, the national flower of the Cook Islands
  • The national flower of the Cook Islands is the Tiare māori or Tiale māoli (Penrhyn, Nassau, Pukapuka).[68]
  • The Cook Islands have a large non-native population of Ship rat[69] and Kiore toka (Polynesian rat).[70] The rats have dramatically reduced the bird population on the islands.[71]
  • In April 2007, 27 Kuhl's lorikeet were re-introduced to Atiu from Rimatara. Fossil and oral traditions indicate that the species was formerly on at least five islands of the southern group. Excessive exploitation for its red feathers is the most likely reason for the species's extinction in the Cook Islands.[72]
  • The Islands’ surrounding waters are the home of the Peppermint angelfish. While they are common, due to the difficulty of harvesting them they are one of the most expensive marine aquarium fish with a price of US$30,000.[73]


Rugby league is the most popular sport in the Cook Islands.[74]

See also


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  70. ^ "Cook Islands Biodiversity: Rattus exulans – Pacific Rat". Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  71. ^ "Cook Islands Biodiversity: The Status of Cook Islands Birds – 1996". 24 September 2005. Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  72. ^ "BirdLife International: Rimatara Lorikeet (Vini kuhlii) at". Retrieved 18 November 2011.
  73. ^ "Centropyge boylei, Peppermint angelfish". Retrieved 3 December 2020.
  74. ^ "Cook Islands Financial Strife". We Are Rugby. Archived from the original on 6 December 2011.

Further reading

  • Gilson, Richard. The Cook Islands 1820–1950. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press, 1980. ISBN 0-7055-0735-1

External links

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